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Info sheet

Introduction to social and emotional learning in schools

What social and emotional learning is, why it matters, and how EIF is working to improve how schools support children at risk of developing poor social and emotional skills.

Introduction to SEL



What are social and emotional skills?

Social and emotional skills play a crucial role in children and young people’s development, enabling them to achieve positive outcomes in school, work and life in general.

Definitions vary, but the term generally encompasses five interrelated sets of cognitive, emotional and behavioural competencies.

  • Self-awareness: Recognising your own thoughts and emotions and understanding how they influence your behaviour. Self-confidence, and accurately assessing your own personal strengths and limitations.
  • Self-regulation: Regulating your own emotions, thoughts and behaviours, managing stress, controlling impulses, and setting and working towards personal goals.
  • Social awareness: Empathy and understanding of others, respecting diversity, understanding social and cultural norms of behaviour.
  • Responsible decision-making: Making ethical and constructive choices about your own behaviour, based on an ability to empathise and see the perspective of others.
  • Relationship skills: Establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships, communicating clearly, listening well, cooperating with others and negotiating conflict constructively.

Why are these skills important?

Our own research has shown that social and emotional skills are important for children’s health, wellbeing and future success, including their educational attainment.

Research also indicates that some social and emotional skills lay the foundation for later skill development. Skills learned in primary school act as building blocks for more complex skills learned throughout secondary school.

In much the same way that academic skills can be taught, social and emotional skills can be nurtured and developed throughout childhood, adolescence and beyond. There are clear opportunities for early intervention to improve social and emotional skills before children start school, and during the school years as a way of supporting children and young people’s wellbeing and readiness for adult life.

About the contributor

Stephanie Waddell

Steph is assistant director for impact and knowledge mobilisation at EIF.